Republican victories in the 2010 elections raise a nagging and uncomfortable question: why the violent pendulum swings in our politics?
Are the American people fickle, indecisive, and confused by all the partisan bickering? Or do their rapid zigs and zags from one side to the other reflect a healthy pragmatism, and a skeptical impatience with ideological agendas of all varieties?
Just two years after a sweeping, historic triumph for Barack Obama and his liberal cohorts, the American people sharply reversed course and turned back to conservative Republicans, apparently embracing some of the same principles (and even some of the same principals) they had angrily rejected in 2006 and 2008.
Over the course of the last sixty years the electorate has displayed an odd tendency to flip from Democrat to Republican every two years or, at most, every six. Eisenhower won crushing landslides for the GOP in 1952 and 1956; in 1958 the Democrats took an amazing 15 Senate seats and 43 seats in House, and two years later recaptured the presidency. Lyndon Johnson earned a 44 state Democratic sweep in 1964; four years later, Richard Nixon won back a full thirty of those states for the GOP.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter brought the Democrats back to the White House and captured a mammoth two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives. Four years later, the voters delivered 44 states to Carter’s rival Ronald Reagan, along with GOP control of the US Senate. Reagan’s successor George H. W. Bush won a landslide in 1988, then managed only a feeble 37.5% of the popular vote in his ill-fated drive for re-election. The subsequent Clinton honeymoon ended even more abruptly – with the huge Republican gains of 1994, seizing both houses of Congress, before more Democratic triumphs (1996, 2006 and 2008), interrupted, of course, by solid GOP victories (2002 and 2004).
The unstable state of our politics make a mockery of all the experts and pundits on both sides who proclaimed “an emerging Republican majority” or durable control for resurgent Democrats. The recent returns demonstrate that there is no dominant, majority party in the United States, and there hasn’t been one since the Eisenhower era. Any proclamations about the nation’s fundamentally conservative nature, like all the pronouncements about the deeply-ingrained progressive instincts of the populace, inevitably sound laughable within two or three electoral cycles.
By now, our political leaders should have gotten the message: the people of the United States aren’t liberal, and they’re not conservative. They feel abiding affection for neither Republicans nor Democrats. In fact, they feel little enthusiasm for politicians or politics of any kind.